Connect to share and comment

The Bhutan insurgencies

Video: "We are preparing a protracted people's war."

Aum Zam, a 75-year-old Bhutanese woman, waits for customers as she looks out from her shop at Chubachu in Thimphu, Aug. 11, 2009. (Singye Wangchuk/Reuters)

THIMPHU, Bhutan — The impressive necklace of cliff-perched fortresses that dot this Himalayan nation's mountainous perimeter are a testimony to Bhutan's long-standing effort to keep out foreigners.

In the 1980s, however, the tiny Buddhist nation of just 600,000 sandwiched between the People's Republic of China and India found itself with what it considered to be a foreigner problem.

Bhutan's minority population of ethnic Nepalese had mushroomed to represent one-third of the population, causing then-King Jigme Singye Wangchuck to start a "one nation, one people" policy to deport and strip many of their Bhutanese citizenship. The campaign ended with the expulsion of about 105,000 Nepalese through beatings, torture and murder committed by the Royal Bhutan Army that lasted until the early 1990s, human rights groups and deportees say.

"We left because we were scared that they would imprison us, that they would beat us, that I would be raped," said Matimya Moktan, 41, who arrived in Nepal in 1991 and now lives in a small mud stick hut with her three children and husband in one of seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal.

Locked in political limbo, these camps have become breeding grounds for a fledgling militancy that seeks to overthrow Bhutan's monarchy just two years after the king abdicated in favor of his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who heads a constitutional monarchy that permitted the nation's first democratic elections last year. "We are preparing a protracted people's war," said Comrade Umesh, a 27-year-old leader of the Communist Party of Bhutan, one of a handful of Maoist militant groups that have developed in the camps. The groups now have little more than handmade explosives, pistols and ragged Communist literature with which to wage their insurgency but Indian intelligence sources say they may soon acquire much more capacity through recent alliances with two Indian separatist groups: the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and the United Liberation Front of Assam operating in the restive Indian states of Sikkim and Assam located between Nepal and Bhutan.